Your customers can face financial pressures at any time and for many reasons. These can include:
- job loss
- experiencing family or domestic violence
- natural disasters
- increased living costs.
Under the TCP Code, you must ensure that your customers have the information and assistance they need when experiencing financial hardship.
Make your financial hardship policy available
You must provide your financial hardship policy, or instructions on how to access it, to your customers at key times:
- at the time of, or before, issuing a customer their first bill
- when issuing reminder notices about upcoming payments or unpaid bills
- when issuing a notice that you will restrict, suspend or disconnect a customer’s service.
You must also summarise how your financial hardship policy can help if:
- a customer indicates to you that they are experiencing financial hardship
- you consider that a customer might be eligible under your policy, or
- a customer requests it.
When providing information to a customer about your financial hardship policy and processes, include direct links to your policy, where possible.
Avoid using general language, such as ‘Need help with your invoice?’ Be specific about how you can assist customers having difficulties paying their bills, for example: ‘Experiencing financial hardship? Here’s a link to our financial hardship policy to help you.’
1. First bills
You must advise your customers at the time of, or before, sending them their first bill about the processes you have for helping them if they have difficulty paying their bills.
You must include information on how to easily access your financial hardship policy. To make sure you comply with this requirement, you might choose to include the information in your customer terms and conditions or your standard form of agreement that is made available to customers at sign-up, or in your customers’ first bill.
Find out more: See clause 5.1.2 of the TCP Code.
2. Reminder notices
If you send your customers reminder notices, you must include information about your financial hardship policy and how they can contact you. This includes notices that remind customers of an upcoming or overdue payment or notification of a failed direct debit transaction.
This is so your customers have the information they need to contact you for help, as early as possible, if they are experiencing financial pressures.
Find out more: See clause 6.6 of the TCP Code.
3. Restricting, suspending, or disconnecting services
Once you have decided to restrict, suspend, or disconnect a customer’s service because of their failure to pay a bill, you must:
- provide them with information about your financial hardship policy in the notice you give them advising of your decision
- give them enough time to contact you before you take action – at least 5 working days
- ensure the notice you give them contains all the other information specified in the TCP Code.
You must do this for all your customers, unless:
- you have assessed that the customer or account status presents an unacceptably high credit risk
- you reasonably suspect fraud or attempted fraud
- the customer has reached a nominated restriction point for their service.
Find out more: See clause 6.7 of the TCP Code.
Give customers adequate notice
You must give your customers adequate notice about your decision to restrict, suspend or disconnect their telco service because of their failure to pay a bill.
We consider that you must meet all the notification obligations in a single notification to your customers, whether via letter, email or SMS. That is, in your notice of restriction, suspension, or disconnection you must give adequate notice by:
- communicating that decision clearly and giving your customers at least 5 working days’ prior notice
- taking the precautions listed in the TCP Code
- providing your customers with information that will assist them to understand their situation and to take action to avoid restriction, suspension or disconnection.
The relevant notice should contain all this information.
Find out more: See clause 6.7 of the TCP Code.
You may also choose to give your customers this information at other times (for example, in reminder notices) if you consider it will be of assistance to them.
In restriction, suspension and disconnection notices, use language that clearly conveys that you have made a decision to take that action unless your customer pays their outstanding bill.
For example, you should say, ‘your service will be disconnected on [date] unless…’ or, ‘if you don’t pay your outstanding account by [date], we will suspend your mobile phone service.’
Avoid language that is indirect or unclear, such as ‘may be’, ‘most likely will be’, or ‘we might'.
Please read this information together with these ACMA publications looking at financial hardship:
- Financial hardship in the telco sector – Keeping the customer connected
- Consumer vulnerability: Expectations for the telecommunications industry
- What consumers want – Consumer expectations for telecommunication safeguards
For more information about the TCP Code and how to comply, refer to Communications Alliance.
Note: CSPs should seek their own legal advice about complying with TCP Code requirements.